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Sep 7th

West Side Story - Nice Swan Theatre Company @The People's Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne

By Steve Burbridge


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WEST SIDE STORY – NICE SWAN THEATRE COMPANY @ THE PEOPLE’S THEATRE, NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE

First nights are always a nerve-jangling affair, for all involved, where all manner of things can go awry. However, even with a few glitches, Nice Swan Theatre Company can still stage a production that puts their competitors in the shade.

Never lacking in ambition, enthusiasm or talent, Nice Swan’s latest production is their version of the West End, Broadway and celluloid hit, West Side Story. As usual, many of the hallmarks of the group are there to be seen – fantastic staging, great acting, and brilliant choreography to name a few. However, for me, this production is not what this group is all about. With all due respect, at any one given time, I can go and see half a dozen less talented amateur groups perform productions of Carousel, The King and I, My Fair Lady or West Side Story. Nice Swan is so much better than that.

I associate their productions with edginess, ambition, risk-taking and flair. They take up the challenge of producing pieces which other companies would not have the courage to even consider – and they do it brilliantly and with such panache. West Side Story, in my opinion, seemed just a little too ‘safe’ and ‘commercial’.

A number of other things compounded my disappointment. Firstly, the orchestra overpowered the singing at times and, being located on an elevated platform at the rear of the stage, detracted the eye from the action below. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the two leads, Sean Gray (Tony) and Carly Burns (Maria) were outshone by the supporting principles. Jessica Brady (Anita), Bethany Walker (Rosalia), Dale Jewitt (Bernardo) and, especially, Paul Falkous (Riff) who stepped in as a late replacement at three weeks’ notice, were absolutely outstanding.

On the plus side, the choreography, by Stephanie Smith, was breathtaking and fantastically executed and extremely worthy of special mention. Credit should also be given to the ensemble of more than twenty performers who sang, danced and acted their socks off.

I am certain that the keen eyes of  the producer, Jamie Gray, and director, Ben Hunt, will also have noticed the things that didn’t go as well as they should have and that, as a result, the technical aspects of the show will be improved for the remainder of the run.

As a passionate advocate of Nice Swan Theatre Company, I hope their next production will be a return to what they do best – a risk-taking, challenging, new interpretation of a piece of work that reaches out to its audience, takes them on a journey and leaves them more culturally enriched than it found them.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 10 September 2011.

Sep 4th

Over The Rainbow - The Eva Cassidy Story: VIP Charity Lunch

By Steve Burbridge

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Over The Rainbow: The Eva Cassidy Story

VIP CHARITY LUNCH

By the time of her death, Eva Cassidy was unknown outside Washington but, within four years, Terry Wogan discovered and promoted her haunting interpretation of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ to the top of the chart. The life of this wonderfully talented and spiritual song stylist was, tragically, cut short at the premature age of 33 years as a result of skin cancer.

To coincide with the seventh sensational UK tour of the award-winning and compelling musical, Over The Rainbow: The Eva Cassidy Story, which journeys through Eva’ s life, Franco’s Terrace Bar & Restaurant in association with Theatre Productions Limited are delighted to announce that they will be holding an exclusive VIP Charity Lunch to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support.

The event is to take place on Wednesday 12th October from 12 noon until 2.30pm. Upon arrival, guests will be greeted with a complimentary glass of bubbly. In addition to enjoying a two course Italian meal of the finest quality, followed by coffee and mints, in the resplendent surroundings of Franco’s - with its glamorous chandeliers, candlelit tables, Italian baroque furniture, and Swarovski crystal studded seating - guests will also be treated to an afternoon of fantastic entertainment, compèred by the North East’s very own Steve Walls, an entertainer who has made a huge impact in his native region, and much further afield, and is now widely regarded as one of the UK’s top compères.

The stars of Over The Rainbow: The Eva Cassidy Story will also be attending and guests will have an opportunity to meet and mingle with Sarah Jane Buckley (Hollyoaks) who leads the cast as Eva Cassidy, Maureen Nolan (The Naked Truth, Blood Brothers and The Nolans) who takes on the role of Barbara Cassidy, Strictly Come Dancing sensation Brian Fortuna, who will be making his eagerly-anticipated acting debut as Danny Cassidy and other members of the company. Sarah Jane Buckley will also give an exclusive live performance of some of Eva Cassidy’s best-loved numbers.

A charity raffle will also be drawn and guests will have the chance to win fabulous prizes from a selection of luxury goods which have kindly been donated by a number of companies including Clay’s Garden Centre and Villeroy & Boch.

As if all that were not enough, the VIP Charity Lunch price also includes a ticket to see that evening’s performance of Over The Rainbow: The Eva Cassidy Story at The Playhouse, Whitley Bay, at 7.30pm.

Judith Graziani of Franco’s Terrace Bar & Restaurant said: “Few of us go through life without being touched by cancer in some way and it is vital that we support charities such as Macmillan Cancer Care. This fantastic Over The Rainbow VIP Charity Lunch is a very worthwhile way of continuing our ongoing commitment to holding charity events here at Franco’s.”

Stephen Leatherland, the producer and director of Over The Rainbow: The Eva Cassidy Story, added: “The show is intended to be a truthful, heartfelt tribute to Eva’s life and talents and this VIP Charity Lunch is also a wonderful way of raising money for such a worthy cause.”

Tickets for this unmissable event are priced at only £25 per person, which includes a donation of £5 to Macmillan Cancer Support. Places are strictly limited and will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. All tickets must be purchased in advance, as there will be no provision to purchase on the door.

For further information or to make a booking, please contact Steve Burbridge, Press & Marketing Officer for Theatre Productions Ltd on 07986 142 281 or e-mail steveburbridge@blueyonder.co.uk 

 

Aug 19th

High School Musical - On Stage

By Steve Burbridge

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HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL

Whitley Bay Playhouse

Nice Swan Theatre Company may normally be associated with edgier productions than Disney’s High School Musical but, whatever this talented group bring to the stage, they always produce shows with standards that are second to none.

The cheesy Disney story of the problems associated with peer pressure and canteen cliques is, essentially, a modern-day fairy tale that chronicles the twists and turns of a blossoming romance between Troy Bolton (Jamie Douglas), the super-popular captain of the basketball team, and Gabby Montez (Bethany Walker), the brain-box transfer student, as they each strive to find an identity for themselves and land the lead roles in the big school production.

Douglas and Walker lead a phenomenally talented cast and they are superbly supported – and sometimes even upstaged – by the delightfully devious duo of divas, Sharpay Evans (Laura Stoker) and her twin brother Ryan (Daniel Mawston). The comedy relief is provided by a pair of bickering staff – Ms Darbus (Erin Gascoigne), the over-the-top drama teacher, and Coach Bolton (Micky McGregor), the basketball coach and Troy’s overbearing father.

Of course, love conquers all and everyone lives happily after by curtain-call, but there is plenty of action along the way and many a twist and turn to scupper our hero and heroine’s courtship.

The acting and singing on stage is testament to the dedication, commitment and natural talent that is at the heart of this group. Not a bum note nor a prompt in sight! Technically, there were a few issues that went wrong and which, no doubt, will be rectified in time for the remainder of the run. However, because none of the cast was at all phased by these glitches, it made it far easier for the audience to overlook them and they didn’t seem to impact on the overall enjoyment of the production at all.

Obviously, Nice Swan’s well-earned reputation for producing shows that rival fully professional productions is getting around – the auditorium was very respectably filled. And, during the summer holiday months, that is no mean feat! An appreciative audience left the theatre with a spring in their step and a tune or two in their heads, having enjoyed a production that is as wholesome as good old-fashioned American apple pie.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Friday 19th August 2011.

 

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Jul 28th

Visiting Mr Green

By Steve Burbridge

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There is much to enjoy from The Customs House’s latest theatrical offering, Visiting Mr Green. It is a well-written piece of theatre which is performed with panache by two talented actors. And, whilst it may not appeal to audiences who are used to altogether flashier fare, it is a sensitive, gentle and ultimately uplifting production which deals with themes of tolerance, acceptance and diversity.

What made this production so enjoyable for me is the fact that, right its core, it concentrates on character and storyline rather than special effects. Two actors, two characters, two lives which are, initially, unrelated but are soon inextricably entwined.

A somewhat careless and speeding Ross Gardiner (Collin Baxter) almost runs over the frail and recently widowed Mr Green (G. Phillip Hope) and is ordered to spend his community service period shopping and cleaning for the old man. Neither is happy about the situation and both are resentful of each other. However, when Mr Green learns that Ross is Jewish, like himself, a friendship begins to form. That tentative bond is tested when the older man discovers the younger is gay.

Hope and Baxter are a great double-act and nail their parts with admirable precision. Hope, as the hunched, constantly trembling geriatric, should be easy to dislike due to his bigoted views but this is not the case. We make allowances for his homophobia, attributing it to his orthodox views and a lack of understanding. Baxter, as the too-busy-to-care corporate animal, should also evoke our anger on occasion for his lack of consideration. He doesn’t. In both cases, this is due to the talent and stagecraft of the actors. Both portray their characters with honesty and sincerity and the result pays dividends.

On press night, much was made of the lengthy breaks between scenes which, to be fair, did tend to stilt proceedings somewhat and lead to annoying, incessant whispering from the audience. However, this minor irritation did not spoil my enjoyment of a charming production which explored issues close to my own heart in an intelligent and entertaining manner.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 30 July 2011.

Jul 26th

Over The Rainbow - The Eva Cassidy Story

By Steve Burbridge



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 Theatre Productions Limited is proud to announce the seventh sensational UK tour of Over The Rainbow: The Eva Cassidy Story. Since its first performance in 2004, this compelling musical play has received rapturous receptions and inspired cathartic outpourings of emotion.

 This is the poignant and moving story of Washington-born singer Eva Cassidy. By the time of her death, she was unknown outside Washington but within four years Terry Wogan discovered and promoted her haunting interpretation of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ to the top of the chart.

 This  sad but uplifting musical play journeys through her life, from her idyllic childhood growing up in a musical family, to her studio work with boyfriend and mentor Chris Biondo; to the exuberant live recording of Blues Alley and finally to her tragically premature death at the age of only 33 years.

 Featuring a truly talented all-star cast of performers and musicians, Over The Rainbow: The Eva Cassidy Story is an award-winning musical that captures the qualities of this wonderfully talented and spiritual song stylist. Not since Blood Brothers has a musical received such an emotional response, with sell-out performances and standing ovations throughout the UK and Ireland.

 Over The Rainbow: The Eva Cassidy Story has already wowed audiences all over Europe and includes more than 27 of her best-loved songs, recreated by a multi-talented cast of West End performers, including unforgettable classics such as Fields of Gold, Songbird, Autumn Leaves, Kathy’s Song and many more.

 SARAH JANE BUCKLEY (Hollyoaks) stars as Eva Cassidy, whilst MAUREEN NOLAN (Blood Brothers; The Nolans) takes on the role of Barbara Cassidy, Eva’s mother, and BRIAN FORTUNA (Strictly Come Dancing) makes his eagerly anticipated acting debut as Danny Cassidy, Eva’s brother. Accomplished West End actor ROBERT GROSE (The Lion King; Starlight Express & Five Guys Named Moe) plays larger-than-life legend, Chuck Brown.

 More than a musical life-story, Over The Rainbow: The Eva Cassidy Story is a show for anyone who has lost someone they love. A thoroughly entertaining and a truly memorable experience.

 For full tour details, including dates and venues, visit the website at www.theatre-productions.com .

 What the press say:

 “An unmissable evening for Eva’s fans” - Peterborough Evening Telegraph

 “Cassidy’s final public performance closed with What a Wonderful World as did this tribute and though infused with lyrics of optimism, tears flowed throughout the auditorium. Thus, demonstrating live theatre is most powerful when it has the ability to reach out and touch the heart of its audience” - Grimsby Telegraph

 “Simply wonderful . . . a beautiful show” – Northern Chronicle

 “Spontaneous standing ovation for Eva Cassidy musical” – Waterford News

 “Fantastic performances all round” – Hull Daily Mail

 

Jul 19th

The Pitmen Painters

By Steve Burbridge

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The Pitmen Painters

Darlington Civic Theatre

Fairly early into Act One of the production I, inwardly, groaned. One of the characters said: ‘If you’re not interested in whippets and leeks, round ‘ere, you’re stuffed’.

Immediately, I prayed that The Pitmen Painters wouldn’t portray a stereotypical representation of the working classes in the North East and paint us all as ‘Andy Capp’s’. I needn’t have concerned myself.

Although it is possible to consider the characters as ‘stock’ – there’s the bureaucratic union official who lives his life by the rule book (Deka Walmsley), the blustering Marxist (Michael Hodgson), the avuncular joker (David Whitaker), the unemployed young lad (Brian Lonsdale) and the reserved thinker who turns out to be the most talented of the group (Trevor Fox) – it is testament to the talents of playwright and performers that, as the layers are stripped away, we are presented with real men who would be familiar to us from our grandfather’s generation.

The story of a group of Ashington pitmen who, as part of the Workers Educational Association Class, hire the academic, Robert Lyon (David Leonard) to teach an art appreciation class and ultimately become celebrated painters is by turn humorous, tragic, moving and uplifting.

Technically, it is also a joy to behold. Lee Hall’s script is honest and gritty but also has heart and soul, the acting is excellent, and the staging is simple but effective. Designer Gary McCann has created a sparse set, comprising mainly a few wooden folding chairs and some easels, which functions as a number of different locations throughout. Much use is made of three suspended projectors, which provide relevant facts and also display pieces that were painted by the men. The clever device of using the screeching alarm that marks the end of a ten hour shift and the clattering of the cage that takes the men back to the surface to facilitate scene changes ensures that the hardships of life spent down the mine are never forgotten.

Only two female characters appear in the piece – the nude model who the men are to paint (Viktoria Kay) and the shipping heiress who becomes interested in the work of the men (Joy Brook) – and, if I were to make one small criticism it would be that these characters are utilised as merely adjuncts. However, both actresses made the most of their roles.

The Pitmen Painters is a fine example of theatre at its best and a ‘warts-and-all’ depiction of the North East’s industrial heritage. Superb.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 23 July 2011.

Jun 27th

NICE SWAN THEATRE COMPANY present High School Musical On Stage!

By Steve Burbridge


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Get ready for the start of something new!
The stage production based on the Disney Channel Original Movie, High School Musical, live on stage for a strictly limited run.

Prepare yourself for the chance to see your favourite movie brought to life, this show is everything you love about the movie, with the added fun of the theatre!

Watch the twists and turns of the loveable schoolmates, Troy, super-popular captain of the basketball team and Gabriella, super-smart transfer student and a genius in science class, as they surf the tricky tides of peer pressure and canteen cliques to follow their dreams and score leads in the big school production – and a place in each other’s hearts.

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High School Musical live on stage features all of your favourite movie characters and songs, together with two BRAND NEW numbers, performed by some of the region’s most talented musical theatre students.

Jamie Gray, Managing Director for Nice Swan Theatre Company, said: ‘We are excited to be bringing this well-loved show to the Playhouse this year as an extra summer treat for the region. We have an amazingly talented team working on the production and it definitely is a one not to miss!’

Alex Proudlock, Musical Director for the show, added: ‘This production of High School Musical on Stage lives up to the Disney films and is family fun at its best. The music is full of ‘high’ energy and is packed full of different styles and genres. Most definitely a tap your toe production!

High School Musical comes ahead of Nice Swan Theatre Company’s revival of the classic musical West Side Story at The People’s Theatre this September. The show comes to Whitley Bay Playhouse  for three performances only. Prepare for breathtaking choreography, stunning voices, and a ‘West End quality’ musical extravaganza this summer!

Tickets cost only £8 Adults and £7 Concessions (special family offer for £24 – 2 adults/2 children) and are available from the Playhouse box office on 0844 277 2771 or online www.playhousewhitleybay.co.uk BOOK NOW!

 

Jun 22nd

Girls Night

By Steve Burbridge


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Girls Night

Gala Theatre, Durham

I’m becoming accustomed to being only one of a sprinkling of men in the audience now. Having already had the dubious honour of reviewing The Vagina Monologues, Women on the Verge of HRT, Hot Flush!, Menopause the Musical, Mum’s The Word and The Naked Truth, I can now add Girls Night to the ever-increasing list of productions aimed at a predominantly female audience.

Louise Roche’s comedy-musical follows the lives of four friends as they gather to celebrate the engagement of Candi-Rose, the daughter of another friend who died 22 years ago in a motorcycle accident. Little do they realise that their deceased mate, Sharon (Serena Giacomini) is watching over them as a rather unconventional guardian angel!

The plot sees the four friends, Carol (Gillian Taylforth), Liza (Rebecca Wheatley), Anita (Katie Paine) and Kate (Lizzie Frances) meet in a nightclub for an evening of Karaoke, drinking and reminiscing and also provides the perfect opportunity for the cast to belt out a succession of girlie anthems including ‘Young Hearts Run Free’, ‘I’m Every Woman’, ‘I Will Survive’, ‘I Am What I Am’ and ‘We Are Family’.

Kate Unwin’s set design, complemented by Kris Box’s lighting, sets the scene well and effectively recreates the look and feel of a nightclub. However, Colin Ashman’s sound tended to be over-amplified on occasion and drowned out some of the singing.

The cast is comprised of actresses who are also great singers and even Gillian Taylforth, a performer who is not usually associated with singing, delivers a very respectable version of ‘We Don’t Cry Out Loud’, despite a slight lyrical mix-up.

Although Girls Night won’t ever set the theatrical world alight, it is a crowd-pleasing concoction of Karaoke classics that does what it says on the tin.

Steve Burbridge

Runs until Saturday 25 June 2011.

Jun 15th

Communicating Doors

By Steve Burbridge


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COMMUNICATING DOORS

The Gala Theatre, Durham

The concept of time travel has fascinated playwrights, scriptwriters and novelists for decades, and Alan Ayckbourn is no exception. His forty-sixth play – he is now up to 76! – Communicating Doors, is based on the subject and ponders what lies behind the mysterious locked door in the corner of your hotel room.

This cracking comedy-thriller begins with a dying old businessman, Reece Wells (Ben Porter), attempting to ease his guilty conscience. He calls upon Poupée (Laura Doddington), a dominatrix, to witness the signing of a statement in which he confesses to being involved in the murders of his two former wives. But when his ruthless business partner, Julian (Ben Jones), who is also implicated by the statement, finds out Poupée (‘it’s French for doll!’ she insists) escapes her fate by fleeing through the communicating door and finds herself transported back to the same hotel suite twenty years earlier.

The plot sees the ‘specialist sexual consultant’ confronted with Reece’s second wife, Ruella (Liza Goddard), on the eve of her murder. Can she alter the course of events and save Ruella? And can the pair go back a further twenty years and prevent Jessica (Daisy Aitkens), Reece’s first wife, from being killed, too?

Set in three different time zones, 1990, 2010 and 2030, this clever and complex play has you on the edge of your seat throughout. Liza Goddard gives a brilliant performance as Ruella, and she is supported by a consummate cast. The pace of action is frenetic and following the story requires a certain amount of concentration but, ultimately, this pays off and the audience is rewarded with a fantastic evening’s entertainment.

Steve Burbridge.

Runs until Saturday 18 June 2011.

Jun 14th

The Lady in the Van

By Steve Burbridge


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The Lady In The Van

Darlington Civic Theatre

REVIEWED BY IAN CAIN ON BEHALF OF STEVE BURBRIDGE.

Perhaps one of the strangest things about Alan Bennett’s play, ‘The Lady in the Van’, is that it is actually based on factual experiences. In 1974, Miss Mary Shepherd drove into Bennett’s garden in a battered old Bedford van and remained there for fifteen years – until her death in 1989.

The play tells the bittersweet story of the relationship between the eccentric, indomitable bag lady and the meek and mild-mannered writer. It not only chronicles Bennett’s frustrating and hilarious encounters with the eponymous ‘lady in the van’  but also with a series of other characters, including a patronising social worker, snobbish neighbours, a threatening blackmailer and Bennett’s dementia-suffering mother.

Bennett’s unique and introspective humour may not suit all tastes, but it is particularly apt at highlighting the poignancy and pathos in seemingly ordinary situations, and the issues raised in the piece include human isolation, the gap between self-awareness and the capacity to change, and the power of propriety.

Nichola McAuliffe gives a tour-de-force performance as Miss Shepherd. Her characterisation of Bennett’s somewhat unwelcome tenant depicts her, by turn, as tough as old boots one moment and as fragile and vulnerable as a bird with a broken wing the next.

Two Alan Bennett’s appear on stage and, although this may sound confusing, it works rather nicely. Paul Kemp is the younger Bennett who is integrally involved in the events that are played out, whilst James Holmes is the older, objective Bennett who looks back over these events retrospectively – sometimes even offering advice to his younger self. Both actors have nailed every last nuance of Bennett’s physical and vocal mannerisms and they each deliver engaging performances.

Peripheral parts are played with panache by Tina Gambe, Emma Gregory, Fiz Marcus, Benedict Sandiford and Martin Wimbush.

Ben Stone’s stunning but simple set design provides the perfect environment and backdrop for the events to be played out and Sarah Esdaile’s direction is both slick and subtle.

‘The Lady in the Van’ is often referred to as a modern classic, and this new production, from Hull Truck, is completely worthy of being categorised as such.

Ian Cain.

Runs until Saturday 18 June 2011.